O.K. – The Musical is an evolving project directed by Christopher Kline, based around the history and lore of his hometown Kinderhook, New York.
The project shifts in form between exhibitions, publications, socially engaged community projects, videos, performances, and online platforms. Expanding and contracting in size and scope since 2014, each new iteration focuses on a small selection of micro-histories, synthesized through processes of research and collaboration.
The long index of collaborators below represents efforts in areas of the project including singing, acting, set-making, playing an instrument, costuming, organizing, documenting, and many other facets of research and production. Collaborations range from several days to several years.
Past iterations have taken place at institutions in the U.K., Germany, Denmark, Poland, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Spain, with participants from all over.
O.K. is perhaps the most widely used and understood word in the world. While many people have heard one tale or another as to its etymology, the preeminent theory is that it arose as part of a Boston language fad in which an abbreviation was given, followed by its comical misspelling in parentheses. For example, “everything’s O.W. (oll wright)”.
This fad included limitless combinations and was used widely in print in the 1830s. O.K. (oll korrect) was one of many, and it would’ve died out like the rest of the trend if it weren’t for the 1840 US Presidential reelection campaign of Martin Van Buren. Nicknamed Old Kinderhook after his hometown, his supporters latched on to the use of O.K., and called themselves the O.K. Club, sloganeering that “O.K. is O.K.!” Though he failed to win re-election, the term stuck. Here it is used as a title, starting point and metaphor for how small-town peculiarities find their way into broader, unexpected uses and forms.
In addition to Van Buren’s troubled presidency, O.K. – The Musical revisits other early cultural exports and anomalies originating in Kinderhook, such as the post-colonial tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, as well as moments throughout history ranging from the so-called Mohican’s first interactions with explorer Henry Hudson and his Dutch crew, the rise of The Shaker ministry in nearby New Lebanon, and a series of Bigfoot sightings in the 1980s.
O.K. – The Musical is characterized by a collaborative approach toward reinterpreting conceptions of history, truth and legacy, often utilizing the model of a community theatre as a generative tool. Its inclusive structure and environment attempts to reflect the make-up of an actual community and its members’ varying perspectives, skills, and interests. Utilizing satire, tropes and hyperbole, the project explores what can be learned or gained by focusing lenses, both amateur and professional, on analyzing and synthesizing a small town’s obscure history which is usually written only from within. Particular attention is paid to folklore and oral histories which often embody the essence of a place but can tend to be overshadowed by official accounts.
By treating Kinderhook as a microcosm not only of the United States but of the world at large, the project traces back the local history to the very formation of its landscape 4.5 billion years ago and explores its role in human settlement and subsequent development. Through the inclusion of outside communities, the project reframes often subjective historical narratives, addressing themes such as imperialism, race, gender and class to interrogate whose version of history survives and proliferates, and why. Such non-dominant perspectives are interwoven with myth-making, folklore and anecdotes as a means of further exploring the past.
Through meticulous development over years to come, and the inclusion of a growing number of interpretations both local and foreign to Kinderhook, the musical is designed to become a cultural export which itself may be reabsorbed back into the town’s historical cannon.
Christopher Kline would like to warmly thank all of the collaborators listed below as well as the many people of Kinderhook who have assisted with this project thus far. Special thanks to the local historians and researchers who provided invaluable background knowledge and research material including Dominick Lizzi, Ruth Piwonka, Conrad Vispo, Bruce G. Hallenbeck, Warren Applegate, Ann Scharoun from Friends of Lindenwald, and Anna Thompson from The Columbia County Historical Society.
Charlotte Van der Haer Richardson
Royal Court Theatre Community Choir